Centennial year finds 12-ft dinghy in dilemma
For an amateur designer, George Cockshott left a vast footprint on sailing. He drew a small wooden craft with no jib, a hull that’s bound to get you wet and an odd lugsail topped by a spar that’s yanked around the mast when coming about. The helmsman has a special place when it blows hard: on the hull’s narrow, hard edge. Still, the 12-ft dinghy commands a loyal and growing audience making it the most enduring sailboat design ever. Yes, the Star is older, but it has been modernized _ an issue now dividing dinghy sailors in the design’s centennial year.
Cockshott entered his 12-footer in a 1913 design contest in his native Britain where it became a one-design in 1914. The contest was organised by the Boat Racing Association which wanted a new sailing dinghy that could also be used as a yacht tender. Cockshott’s design with its single, high-peaked lugsail fitted the bill. By 1920, 200 had been built. The 12-ft dinghy was used in the 1920 and 1928 Olympics. While it has largely faded from British waters _ a victim of eager modernizers _ it remains popular elsewhere. Dutch yards make 3 or 4 wooden versions a year. The Netherlands and Italy both boast several hundred dinghies. There are about 50 in Japan, 40 in Germany, 35 in France and 12 in Turkey. Lately, yards in several nations have entered the dinghy market. Some 40 new boats are launched annually.
The Dutch love wooden dinghies. The Italians prefer plastic. “While the Netherlands has remained faithful to the classical principles, the Italians have modernized the boat,” says Pieter Bleeker, a successful Dutch racer who helped found the International 12-ft Dinghy Class Association in 2007. “Aluminum rudders on wooden dinghies. Aluminum masts. Plastic dinghies. When plastic enters traditional wooden classes, it’s usually the beginning of the end for wooden boats. We are friends with the Italians. We just disagree. In Italy they put old dinghies in a museum. We keep sailing them.”
The Dinghy Class has undergone changes depending on sailing conditions. The Dutch take them for a spin in Beaufort force 6. Wind speed in Italy is usually lower. Most countries have both plastic and wooden dinghies, except the Netherlands where only wooden one are used. The standoff over hull materials, rigging and handicaps will likely reduce the international dinghy association to best-friends club. But the Netherlands, for one, will continue to build, enjoy and defend Cockshott’s clinker-built hull of overlapping mahogany hull planks _ a gorgeous sight inspired by Viking warships .